I hit the jackpot with such a loving, crafty partner.

By Martha Frankel

We all know the story about the shoemaker whose kids go to school with holes in their soles. I live with the other kind of shoemaker, the one so jacked with creativity that each kid can’t close the closet door because their shoes are spilling out.

If I mention to my honey, Steve Heller, that I want a new light in the living room, he’ll head to his shop (Fabulous Furniture in Boiceville, NY) and confer with his creative-partner-in-crime, Mike Karpf. For days they’ll gather parts and within a few weeks they’ll present me six options to choose from.

During COVID, I was stumped as to where to store all the food we were suddenly buying in bulk. “I wish I had a good pantry,” I said one night. The next day he and Mike constructed a perfect pantry in a closet we used to pile things we no longer wanted but hadn’t yet found other homes for.

We bought our simple concrete ranch house in 1983. I’d never have understood its potential without Steve. It was full of little rooms, dark paneling, bad natural light. “This is perfect!” he exclaimed the first time we came inside. “There’s no bearing walls. I can knock them all down and make a huge living room/dining room/kitchen.” And he’s done just that, year by year, wall by wall, room by room.

Our luck is that we like the same things. When I told him our bathroom lacked a way to see the back of my hair, he installed a mid-century medicine chest across from the sink, and then tricked it out with metal
and lights. The kitchen was dark black cherry and Steve wanted to preserve the wood until Mike and I convinced him it’d look better painted. Once that was done, he added hood ornaments as door handles and a friend’s handmade tiles.

The only thing we’ve fought about is the brick and slate fireplace and mantle. For years he told me you couldn’t paint brick. And I believed him. But then Mike told me he was lying, and we painted it the same green as the kitchen. Steve loved it. But what to do for a mantle? The slate was just a dust collector. I went to Los Angeles to do an interview and when I came back he’d already installed a new one. I can’t imagine how we ever lived without it.

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